The Netherlands’ Eneco Tour attracts a unique selection of riders and, despite being a week long race, there is often no real stage racer in sight. The list of winners, including Erik Dekker, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Zdenek Stybar, is a curious selection and the route tends towards a collection of mini-classics, quite unlike any other race currently on the World Tour. This year’s route was a unique a blend as ever and grew lumpy as it built towards its finale. The Liege-Bastogne-Liege inspired Stage 6 ultimately decided the race but rolling terrain could be found throughout and there was plenty of opportunities for time gaps. A traditional flat opening also attracted a multitude of sprinters and this year the race welcomed names such as Andre Greipel, Giacomo Nizzolo and Sasha Modolo. There was a whole host of others too and Trek Factory Racing brought a super selection of sprinters in addition Nizzolo, a risk that ultimately didn’t pay off.
Belgian Tim Wellens was successful in defending his title, using the race’s Queen Stage to gain 49 seconds plus a winner’s bonus to seize the race lead. His nearest challenger was pre-race favourite Greg Van Avermaet who continues to impress as he floats between the various Pro Cycling disciplines. Despite a spirited second place, Van Avermaet’s BMC team will be frustrated to miss out on the win with Philip Gilbert back in sixth a high-class alternative. Wilco Kelderman was the best Dutch finisher and rounded off the podium in third. He was the closest thing the race had to a ‘GC guy’ and may be disappointed to have lost time on the hilliest stage. He will, however, look back on his second place in the ITT as a high and the Dutch time trial champion appears to be rounding into a discipline specialist. He looked good back in the Tour’s opening stage and here took scalps such as the talented Adriano Malori.
The time trial was won by Kelderman’s compatriot and team-mate Jos Van Emden. Another who impressed back in the Tour de France, Van Emden rode a fantastic 13.9km and stole the day with what may be his biggest career win. The sprint stages were busy and competitive with current class leader Andre Greipel settling for just the one win and Elia Viviani emerging first in a messy opener. Tom Boonen turned back the clock in stage 3, finding legs to edge out faster riders many years his junior. The Eneco Tour has a knack of producing atypical bunch sprints and it was great to see Boonen claim a World Tour victory not many saw coming.
Arguably the stage of the race came on Day 5 with a two-man break of Dylan Van Baarle and Johan Le Bon surviving by a narrow margin with Frenchman Le Bon kicking away from his companion late on. Van Baarle refused to give up on the wet finishing stretch and almost clawed his way back to Le Bon’s wheel before finding no extra in an exciting last 200m. Le Bon had enough in the tank for a small second kick, taking him away from his rival ensuing emphatic celebrations. Behind the pair, Kelderman and Wellens fought Magnus Cort for third spot and the trio’s pursuit was good enough to give Kelderman the race lead by one single second.
The next day Wellens made his winning attack and the lumpy terrain sorted the strong from the weak; Fabio Felline, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Tiesj Benoot all rode themselves into top 10 spots. The final day offered some potential for a reshuffle but the small group of favourites rolled home together, around 40 seconds behind BMC’s stage winner Manuel Quinziato. Wellens’ retained title will help ease the disappointment of his ordinary campaign and he becomes the fourth rider to win the Eneco Tour twice in its 15 year history. In a race so open and unpredictable it is quite surprising that four men have managed to emerge top of the pack on more than one occasion. The Eneco Tour’s unique offering makes sure the race is never used as a Vuelta preparation and continues to be an aim for riders usually associated with the spring classics. It gets a thumbs up from me.